Spoon’s new album, Lucifer on the Sofa, crackles and burns with undeniable rock ‘n’ roll swagger. We caught up with singer-songwriter Britt Daniel to discuss the record, the details, and the devil.
Spoon have been many things to many different people over the course of their critically acclaimed career. Once an integral part of Austin’s burgeoning indie rock scene, they have since gained wider recognition as one of their generation’s most brilliant rock bands. And their 10th album, Lucifer on the Sofa, will only add further weight to that reputation.
Largely recorded before the pandemic, yet eerily prescient of current events, Lucifer on the Sofa is a curious beast. Leaning harder than ever before on the underpinnings of rock ‘n’ roll, Spoon have crafted their heaviest and most hedonistic album to date. Despite this, there’s an uneasy energy that seems to course just underneath its surface.
HAPPY: First things first, I managed to have a quick listen to Lucifer on the Sofa and I’ve got to say it had me smiling almost immediately. The sheer amount of riffing and that classic rock energy makes it a really fun album. What was it like making it? Did you go in with classic rock as a motif that you wanted to explore ?
BRITT: Nah, we didn’t think about classic rock, I just thought about rock ‘n’ roll. But I’m glad you like it — it very much is a rock record and it’s got some riffing on it for sure.
HAPPY: Were there any bands you were channelling or listening to at the time, particularly ones you feel made their way onto the record?
BRITT: Yeah, I’m not sure. I can never really say definitively but we did talk a bit about the era of rock & roll that was like late ’60s early ’70s. Those records that were made before the era of 24 tracks. There’s something about the way those records sound; everything has a place, everything has a purpose. What I’ve found recording digitally, how it’s often done today, is that sometimes people just go to a studio and record take after take after take, or try a hundred different guitar solos. And that’s cool, but it just lends itself to a different type of record, and we wanted to create a record that didn’t sound too futzed with.
HAPPY: For sure. I read in the press that you recorded a lot of Lucifer on the Sofa live, which if I’m not mistaken is actually a little unusual for you guys. As a band you have a history of working remotely, but despite the pandemic you were able to get in the same room together. How did this shape the final product?
BRITT: Well we made a lot of this record before the pandemic, not all of it, but a good chunk of it. And I wouldn’t say that every song was recorded live, but we did it on a bunch of them and tried to do it where we could.
We thought we were close to done with the record right before the pandemic hit, and then the pandemic hit and we found ourselves separated. I spent a lot of time alone and I ended up writing a lot of songs, and I was like, “these songs are good they’ve got to go on the record”. So suddenly we were not close to finished and we had all these new ones to record. It did take longer than we would have liked, but it probably made it a higher quality record in the end.
HAPPY: Yeah, definitely. So I’ve listened to a lot of your music over the years but I had a unique experience with this album. I turned it on and the first song starts playing and I immediately felt like I’d heard it before. Anyways, I get to the point where you sing “like a big old baby” and am like “oh shit, this is a Bill Callahan (Smog) tune”. What’s your history with Bill and what made you decide to open the album with Held?
BRITT: Bill lives in Austin so I used to run into him a little bit and we’d say “hello”. We met for the first time when we did a show together in Phoenix a long time ago. So I don’t know him too well, but I love that band and his solo albums and I’ve been buying his records for a long time…since the ’90s.
But the reason it became the first one is that it just sounds like a first track, it had nothing to do with the fact I didn’t write it. It was just the way it came out – it had all those weird noises, studio chatter and incidental sounds. I liked them and I thought it was a really cool sound and it was an interesting way of opening a record, to kind of set the scene for what is about to happen.
It takes a second to develop, starting so low and then it builds into the song. Also, it’s a pretty slow song, so from there you can put on something faster and get bigger and bigger. We’re always thinking about that stuff when it comes to sequencing…it just felt good at the top.
HAPPY: It’s an interesting song because while it is slow it’s also one of the grooviest Bill Callahan songs. It grows and grows (as a song), and while he’s a pretty unique vocalist you are as well. It’s really cool to hear the way you interpret his idiosyncrasies and sort of replace them with your own. You really take it in an interesting direction.
BRITT: Yeah, we definitely have different styles. But it’s funny, when we handed this record in most people didn’t know it was a Smog song, even people that have worked with Smog. So it’s a little different, but kudos to you for figuring it out.
HAPPY: Thank you! Alright, Spoon albums have always impressed me with their fidelity and just how damn good they sound. And you’ve worked with some iconic producers over the years (Dave Fridmann, Mark Rankin) to help you achieve that. Do you recall a moment where either a piece of gear or an unusual recording technique blew your mind, or like changed the rules?
BRITT: I’m sure it’s happened a bunch, the first thing that comes to mind is this thing called the Shure Level Loc. Are you a musician — do you record?
HAPPY: I used to record a lot more than I do now… but my production knowledge is limited. [laughs]
BRITT: Well it was an old piece of gear that they used in the ’50s and ’60s for really old fashioned PA systems. You’d plug your microphone into this thing and it would make sure that the volume stayed the same, and it really crunched it so that it would do so. So somebody pointed out, I think it was Mike McCarthy, that if you run an acoustic guitar sound into that box it feels aggressive, yet not painful. I think we’ve probably used it on 90% of our acoustic sounds since then.
I was always trying to get back to — I record a lot of four-track cassette demos, especially back in the day. And whenever I’d record the acoustic it would just hit the tape super hard so that it has this really warm sound. And it never really sounded the same when you recorded it in a nice studio, until we found this piece of gear that kind of has that same thing that makes the acoustic sound like it’s melting.
HAPPY: Yeah, some of the guitars sound huge on the Lucifer on the Sofa, particularly in The Hardest Cut. There’s the riff but then there’s this chord that you guys hit and it’s massive.
BRITT: Yeah, that little bit sounds like it was melting too. Part of it is just bending the strings, part of it is overloading the system with too many guitars, but somehow we got there. Kind of by accident, you know. It’s a nice little moment.
HAPPY: It’s really impressive, I loved that part. So, The Devil and Mister Jones is a real standout track for me. It’s got an almost sultry, sexy feel to it – particularly that slinky guitar line. It kind of recalls Edwyn Collins’ A Girl Like You, but it still feels entirely your own. I was hoping you might unpack the story of that song a little?
BRITT: Yeah [laughs]. I love that song that you’re referencing, it was one of the coolest things that happened on the radio in the ’90s. But the way that song came about; it was the start of the lockdown and my friend Andrew Cashen – who lives here in Austin and plays in a couple bands you should check out (Sweet Spirit and A Giant Dog), they are just fabulous — so just out of the blue he sent me a recording of him playing the acoustic guitar and whistling a melody.
I think he’d done this before but nothing really happened, I don’t know if I’d even tried. But I just took that melody, and I had a sheet of paper with a bunch of lyrics that were very similar to what you hear on the record. I guess you’d call it a poem if it’s not to the music yet, right?
BRITT: Somehow they just fit perfectly with this song, and it all came about really fast. I like that one too and thought it would be a single, but nobody at the label agreed.
HAPPY: It’s still a coveted position you’ve given it – the third position on Lucifer on the Sofa. I feel that’s where artists often hide their favourite track.
BRITT: You’re absolutely right, and I think about that all the time. There was some quote by Elvis Costello where he talked about that, and I don’t remember if it was song three or song four, but he was talking about what you put on each album and he was like, “song three is the song you really want people to hear” [laughs]. And he’s right, you know. And you’re on it, I think that’s right.
BRITT: I think it happens naturally, but the first person I heard point it out was Elvis Costello. It just makes sense when you’re sequencing. So I put it in a good spot, right?
HAPPY: I think so and it flows nicely too. Also, considering that song’s title and the name of the album, you’re seemingly pulling at the relationship between rock & roll and Satan. And to me at least, that feels like a bit of a throwback to your 2014 album They Want My Soul. What are you getting at here?
BRITT: I grew up in a household, or two households, where Satan was real. Not just a vague concept but a real entity. It was discussed in church and at home, as was the apocalypse, so I think both of those subjects…I don’t feel damaged by it but it is remarkable that my mind goes there when I’m coming up with lyrics.
To me, though, Lucifer on the Sofa is another side of me. That’s what that character is: me at my worst.
HAPPY: There’s a real sense of yearning in that song, or perhaps trying to escape your own surroundings (or yourself). Also, and I could be barking up the wrong tree here, but it recalls other Spoon album closers such as Black Like Me and New York Kiss. Not so much sonically, but in their themes — which I always thought were about breakups.
BRITT: I agree, I know what you mean. There’s a few things going on in Lucifer on the Sofa. One of them is just talking about that creepy scene where he is cashed out in the front room, and what all that means. Then there’s the element of me getting up, trying to get over that sensation, and walking around Austin; but it’s a different version of Austin than I’ve ever seen before.
It’s deserted and pretty desolate. And then…it does sound like it’s the end of a relationship; the parts like “what am I going to do with these things you’ve left behind“.
HAPPY: Over the years you’ve shown an openness to collaborating with other artists. I think I first discovered your music through the EP you did with Bright Eyes. If you could choose any artist to work with tomorrow who would it be?
BRITT: [laughs] I don’t know. I think Karen O does a really great job, that’d be fun. I loved that record she did with Dangermouse a couple years ago, it was my favourite record of that year. I think Dave Grohl is one of the greatest drummers, everything he drums on just turns out fucking fantastic. That’d be fun. And, I mean as long as we’re daydreaming, Arlo Parks is pretty great too. I’d like to do something with her, sure.
HAPPY: Yeah, I’d pay to see that. Speaking of which, I know that the pandemic has made it difficult to tour, but do you have any plans to make make your way back to Australia sometime soon?
BRITT: It’s on the agenda, I mean it’s something I want to do. I haven’t put out a record and not gone to Australia since A Series of Sneaks, or maybe Girls Can Tell. I love being there, it’s one of my favourite places and it bums me out that we can’t come right now. But I guess there are bigger things afoot in the world.
HAPPY: That’s true.
BRITT: How are you doing with it?
HAPPY: Look it’s been a challenging year. We’ve had some iconic venues struggle and close down recently…
BRITT: Which venue?
HAPPY: The Lansdowne is the most recent one, it was probably a bit small for Spoon to play but really important for up-and-coming local bands. It had been around, in one shape or form, for a long time.
BRITT: Bummer, I’m sorry to hear that. We had a little bit of that happen in Austin as well. The Lansdowne sounds familiar but I don’t remember playing there.
HAPPY: It may have been more of a place you would have gone afterwards for a few drinks, when minds are already a bit fuzzy.
BRITT: Yeah, yeah [laughs].
HAPPY: Alright, well before I let you go, I was wondering if you have something you’d like to share about Lucifer on the Sofa; anything you’d like to highlight to returning fans and new listeners alike?
BRITT: Listen to it top to bottom, listen to it loud, listen to it in a car, listen to it in your living room, but with the speakers turned up.
HAPPY: That’s honestly the best advice. Lucifer on the Sofa deserves to be played loud.
BRITT: It really does make a difference in your experience and the intensity that you feel a record. So yeah, if I had something to suggest that would be it.
HAPPY: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Britt. I’ve been fan of your records for a long time and it’s been a pleasure!
BRITT: Thanks so much, it’s a pleasure to talk to you and I appreciate it. I hope we get down your way soon.
Spoon’s new album Lucifer On The Sofa is out now.
Interview by Alastair Cairns.